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FIRST Alumni Take on DARPA Challenge

Continued from the January 2008 Newsletter.

Gordon, Ian and their team created and tested programs for completing maneuvers their vehicle had never done before. Imagine approaching an intersection, merging onto a road, or parking a vehicle with no driver behind the wheel!

In preparation for the semifinals, the team divided itself into two 12-hour shifts, with computer programming being done during the day and vehicle testing at night - sounds a lot like being on a FIRST team.

In fact, Gordon and Ian were on FIRST Team #694 from Stuyvesant High School in New York City. Gordon is now in his senior year at Princeton, studying mechanical engineering. Ian, a junior at Princeton, is also studying mechanical engineering.

Working on the DARPA Urban Challenge has given Ian a new respect for the lessons he learned during his FIRST robotics career. Ian has worked on systems as varied as sensor mounting to navigation algorithms for merging with moving traffic. The knowledge of integrating a mechanical system into a FIRST robot was very similar to the experience of working making a part of an autonomous car function correctly. "Everything has to be tested thoroughly with everything else to make sure nothing will break at the critical moment."

Throughout his experience with the DARPA Challenges, Gordon has continually reflected upon how well his experience with FIRST prepared him, including keeping designs within reasonable limits, tracking progress, staying focused on the correct problems to stay within deadlines, and bringing the robot through a full design cycle. Although Gordon knew from a very young age that he wanted to be an engineer, "FIRST provided the perfect outlet for me to explore my talents and interests and certainly sculpted and directed my career path."

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